Nebraska Academy of Sciences


Date of this Version



Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences 38 (2018 ), pp 10–18.

doi: 10.13014/K2X63K4G


Copyright (c) 2018 Colleen Rothe-Groleau, Claudia M. Rauter, and James D. Fawcett


As humans encroach into areas inhabited by predators, the potential of human-predator confrontations increases and the predators become regarded as dangerous pests. Predators exert a measure of population control over pest species such as small rodents, as well as limit the quantity and scope of diseases (e.g. spread of Hantavirus by these prey species). Control of these small rodent pest species can be aided by conserving and managing their predators like rattlesnakes (Crotalus spp). Management of any population requires detailed information on population composition and the ability to determine the key information (especially age and sex) for each individual quickly and with high accuracy. To determine the sex of a snake in the field, traditionally, a probe or forceful expulsion of the hemipenes are used. In the hands of a person unskilled in field herpetology, these methods can potentially be painful to the snake, as well as place the observer in unnecessary danger.

The goal of this study was to develop a less invasive field method of determining sex for any life stage in Prairie Rattlesnakes (C. viridis) using morphological characteristics that are commonly collected. Snout-vent length (SVL), and absolute and relative measures of tail length (TL, TL/SVL), rattle length (RL, RL/SVL), number of subcaudal scales (SS, SS/SVL), and number of dorsal saddle patterns (DS, DS/SVL) were examined within and across life stages of a C. viridis populationnear Ulysses, Kansas, USA, collected from 2012-2015 to facilitate a safe working environment for a prairie restoration project. SVL, , RL, and DS as well ass RL/SVL and DS/SVL did not differ between sexes within and across life stages. TL,SS,TL/SVL and SS/SVL did not differ between male and female neonates and juveniles, but were, on average, larger in adult males than females. Regression tree analysis, however, indicated that TL and SS as well as TL/SVL and SS/SVL are not very reliable for sex determination of adult snakes. Yet, if used in conjunction with other reliable methods, such as palpation of the ventral area of a snake to determine gravidity, both absolute and relative measures of tail length and number of subcaudal scales are viable alternatives to the more invasive methods currently in use.